What Are We to Do?

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Then the people asked him, ‘What are we to do, then? – Luke 3:10-14

This is a familiar question to all of us. It usually comes to us when we are presented with some difficult task that we have little or no experience with in our lives. This question comes from both our confusion and our anxiety. In this passage, John has been baptizing large crowds of poeple. He has been chastising them, too, saying, “Who told you that you could excape from the punishment God is about to send?” So the people, in their anxiety, ask the question, “What are we supposed to do, then?” (Luke 3:10) And the answer John gives them is stunning, both then and now.

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John, being of a direct nature, answers his interlocutors with specific suggestions that relate to their particular roles in society. To the people in general he says, “Whoever has two shirts must give one to the man who has none, and whoever has food must share it.” To the tax collectors (government) he says, “Don’t collect more than is legal.” To the soldiers, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or accuse any one falsely. Be content with your pay.”

Our job today, then, is to translate these words of John the Baptist into answers that would apply to our own situtation. What is clear is that John is telling the people that life is not “all about me.” Life’s deepest meaning and value comes from serving others, treating them as you would wish to be treated. The wisdom of this idea is so clear, isn’t it? Why, then, do we find it so difficult to live this way? Sin is the source of our confusion and our fears. This is why we needed the Incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Jesus among us. John was preparing the way for Jesus’ life saving message in this passage. Jesus’ life and death gives us the supreme model of what this self-giving, self-sacrificing attitude toward our brothers and sisters would look like. In Jesus we see the liberating power of such an attitude. Let us all, then, pray for the grace to be living imitations of Jesus in the world today.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.